Just like with adults, there are a wide variety of issues that might bring children to therapy. These run the gamut from needing improved coping skills for daily life stress to dealing with significant trauma or mental health concerns.
The first thing to understand about kids is that they will all have ups and downs, periods of moodiness or anxiety, difficult behaviors, trouble with peers, or academic problems. This is part of normal human development, and rough patches usually improve with the proper parental support, validation, and care.
WATCHING AND WAITING BEFORE SEEKING HELP
Since many struggles children face are a normal part of life, I don’t generally recommend that parents call me at the first sign of trouble. With some exceptions, which I’ll go into in a moment, watching and waiting is usually the best course of action once you notice a problem. During this time, parents should offer emotional support, be a listening ear, and be mindfully noticing changes with either the situation or with your child. Next week, I’ll be sharing more tips for how to do this effectively.
WHEN YOU SHOULD NOT WAIT
There are times when seeking help from medical or mental health professionals should not wait. These include:
Suicidal thoughts – If your child tells you or someone else that they are thinking about killing themselves or not wanting to be alive, this is a big red flag and should be addressed as soon as possible.
Unsafe behavior – This includes self-harm, disordered eating, and physical aggression.
Family history – If there is a family history of mental illness, particularly mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, your child is at higher risk. Early intervention is key to proper diagnosis and treatment.
SIGNS THAT IT’S TIME TO REACH OUT FOR HELP
In addition to the red flags above, here are a few signs to watch for that tip the balance toward needing a therapist:
There are problems in multiple areas or settings, for instance at home, school, leisure activities, academics, friendships, etc.
Low self-esteem or lack of confidence
Excessive worry about the future
Expressing hopelessness or helplessness
Withdrawing from people or activities they used to enjoy
Significant changes in mood, energy level, sleep, or appetite
Repetitive behaviors such as hair pulling or skin picking
So you’ve watched and waited, provided support and validation, and things aren’t improving. Checking in with your pediatrician is a good idea at this stage. They see tons of kids every day and can often help you differentiate between what is normal versus abnormal. They will also sometimes have recommendations for good child therapists in your area. Personal recommendations from other parents can also be helpful in finding a good therapist. Keep in mind that In some areas getting in to see a child therapist can be difficult or take a while because there may only be a handful of therapists that work with children.
Parents are sometimes concerned that seeking therapy for their child will result in them being labelled, hospitalized, or medicated. This is rarely the case as most children are not presenting with severe mental illness symptoms. Therapy can be a wonderful support for children and families whether the problems are severe or not. A good therapist can help kids and families learn new ways of communicating, coping, and handling issues as they come up. So whether your child needs help navigating a rough patch or is dealing with something more serious, getting help from a therapist can make life happier and easier for everyone.
PS: If you have concerns about your child’s emotions or behaviors, I’d be happy to talk with you about it! I specialize in children 6 and under but have experience with all ages and stages of development. You can reach out via phone or email to schedule a free consultation call where we can discuss your specific concerns.